Space Florida, which manages the $3-million Nanosatellite Launch Challenge for NASA, has published draft rules for the competition.

The goal of the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge is to encourage the development of new systems for low-cost, frequent launches of small payloads.

The draft rules call for a prize of $1.5 million going to the first team that completes two successful launches, with a payload of one kilogram each, within a period of seven days. Each payload must complete at least one orbit of the Earth with a maximum perigee of 2000 kilometers. Both launches must use the same vehicle type and design.

Second and third prizes of $1 million and $500,000 go to the next two teams to achieve the goal. The payload does not need to be functional. 

The first prize can be won by a ground-launched or air-launched vehicle. If the first prize is won by a ground-launched vehicle, the second prize can only be won by an air-launched vehicle, and vice versa.

The Nanosatellite Launch Challenge is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. Unlike most Centennial Challenges, which require systems to be developed solely with private investment, the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge allows vehicles based on designs developed by or for the government. Vehicles must be manufactured without substantial government investment (more than initial phase one SBIR funding or $150,000 whichever is greater).

This seems like a curious rule, since the purpose of Centennial Challenges is normally to encourage the development of a system or capability without traditional government development contracts. It would be theoretically possible for a team to win the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge with a rocket developed entirely at government expense, paying only for the cost of two launches. (In practice, there has been a notable lack of government interest in nanosatellite launcher development.)

Written by Astro1 on April 19th, 2012 , Innovation, Nanosatellites, Rocketry

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    Michael Johnson commented

    Thanks for posting this one Ed. I am going to have my students work on this as a project based learning assignment. We have several engineers from various disciplines scheduled to make presentations anyway. Now we will have specific issues that they can help us work through.
    Michael Johnson
    Aviation Instructor -DeSoto High School

    May 24, 2012 at 7:40 pm